Wednesday, January 30, 2008

A Question from North of the Border

I got a letter from a student in Canada. S/He [in the interest of anonymity] wanted some advice about working in Parole specializing with women or youth populations.

I have NO idea how the Parole system operates in Canada, to be perfectly frank.
Here in the USA, the Parole systems vary from State to State. Some states combine Parole with Probation and others, like Texas [where I am] keep them seperate.
The average citizen, one who has never been or had a family member, on Probation or Parole tends to confuse the two very different jobs.
As far as specializing in Women or Youth... the only way I can think of to do that [and I'm just takin' a WILD Assed Guess here] would be to take a position as what is called [here in Texas] as an Institutional Parole Officer. IPOs work IN the prisons interviewing prospective parolees about their plans for release and verifying those plans with the friends or family. Those same plans would apply to working in a youth facility where young women are incarcerated. I think, but don't know, that parole officers working with youthful offenders have more contact with their "clients" than IPOs do.
That's the drawback with being an IPO...there is no on-going contact with the parolee. If that's what you're loooking for. Of course a lot of Parole Officers with burn-out issues find the limited contact a nice change from the intense contact with the same parolees.

What you might want to consider, if you're just starting a career in Criminal Justice, with a degree in Sociology, is a year working for Juvenile Probation. offenders. That would give you a chance to see if you actually like working with youthful offenders. Some caseworkers think they will like working with troubled youth because they like working with youth populations in other situations. Youthful offenders are a different kettle of fish, however.

You could always call the Human Resources office and ask questions. If they are as desperate for workers as all the State Agencies down here are, they will be happy to answer your questions. You might even be able to set up a meeting with a Supervisor to discuss your interests and how they mesh with the requirements of the Canadian system.

Good Luck and let me know how thing work out.

If any of you readers have knowledge or experience with the Canadian Criminal Justice System, please share that info with this blogger and the Student writer.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Haiku about being a P.O.

For those of you who don't read my other's one of the Haiku I submitted Wednesday last in the Haiku contest Sparrow sponsors every week:

Parole Officer
sending felons back to prison
Wish they would stay there!!!

That wasn't the one that won..but it was my second favorite.

If any of y'all have a yen to send a Deluxe Care Package to any member of our Armed Services currently serving in harm's way...come on over to Sparrow's on Wednesday and enter the Haiku contest. That's what the winner gets...besides the honor of winning. They get to designate the recipient of a Deluxe Care Package.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Advice to a Would-Be Parole Officer, Part Deaux

Well, it's two days late, but it's here.

This post will be about what I LIKED about being a Parole Officer.

When I first started working for Parole my [then] husband was with the Sheriff's Office. That gave us some common ground. Also, when I had to go make a jail visit, I could drop by his office at the S.O. and visit for a few minutes if he wasn't busy. [Do NOT give me any feminist rhetoric! I'll wager I've been a man-loving feminist since before most of you little bitches were BORN. Growin' up with four brothers, and a succession of Step-fathers will do that to you. So just take a GIANT step back off my ass.]

I met my [now] husband when he came to serve me with a subpoena so that I could testify against one of my miscreants after he committed a new offense. It's not that the Board has anything against P.O.s testifying against parolees who reoffend, they just want the subpoena, so that they can maintain the fiction that the P.O./parolee relationship is NOT adversarial. [In actuality, if you're lucky about 1/3 of your caseload will truly be non-adversarial, another 1/3 will be semi-non-adversarial, and the other 1/3 will be flat out I am gonna slam your ass back in Jail the very first chance I get and we BOTH know that's where you belong, don't we, Dickbreath? I mean NO offense to cocksuckers, some of the nicest people I know engage in that activity.] ANYWAY... I might never have met The Dearly Beloved had I not been a P.O. and had he not worked as a D.A. Investigator. But he came with that little piece of paper in his hand, and waited in my office, looking at my collection of Warren Zevon music while I got rid of an ATF agent I was talkin' to on the phone. [Those feebs could NEVER find my parolees who lived in the boonies. I had to let them follow me out there and pull into the driveway, because those MORONS could not even understand what SOUTHWEST corner meant. HOW the Dallas office ever made any busts is beyond me. I swan, every ATF guy, and they were always guys, never laughed at my, "Nice to meet you, I use all your products" line. Even if they WERE tired of hearing it, they could have chuckled out of professional g'damn courtesy!] He [Dearly Beloved] asked me out to lunch based on a common liking for Zevon, and the rest is history.

I liked feeling that I was "protecting" my community when I was able to get a revocation on a parolee who had violated his parole by drinking when his conviction was for what used to be called Involuntary Manslaughter [now it's called what it is, Intoxication Manslaughter] or DWI.

Convincing the Board to impose a NEW special condition after the parolee had been in Society for a while and wasn't adjusting well, that was something else I liked. It meant that I had spotted a problem, and was trying to do something about it. One case that stands out is a fellow that went down for drug possession but was now having... "anger management" problems. He hadn't hit his wife, yet. I was able to get him into sliding scale counseling BEFORE it could progress to a domestic violence situation.

I live in a College Town. At the time I was a P.O. I had a Jeep CJ-7. I was driving with some friends in an area where a lot of young people hang out. It was Friday or Saturday night, we were going to get pizza. As I turned the corner I spotted one of my Involuntary Manslaughter parolees sittin' on the curb with some of his buds having a beer. Fortuitously, a car pulled away just as I turned the corner. I slid to the curb, it was so perfect, I stopped even with said parolee, my door was off b/c it was a warm Spring night. I waited for him to look up and notice who was driving the Jeep that had just slid to the curb right in front of him. "Oh SHIT!!!" I grinned, "That's riiiight. Be in my office at 9 am Monday!" Do I have to tell y'all I had a blue warrant by 8:30? For the civilians: a "Blue" warrant is called that because they are printed on blue paper. It is a warrant issued by the Board for the arrest of a Parolee when they have violated one of the conditions of their parole and are subject to revocation. A Parolee cannot make bail on a blue warrant. They have to wait for the Board to withdraw it, or for a revocation hearing. It can take up to 90 days to schedule a Revocation Hearing!
I will admit, I was positively Gleeful over this incident and did a happy dance. I did a happy dance as the Deputies marched him down the hall when they arrested him and I did a HUGE, office wide happy dance when I got the notice that he had been revoked for drinking. You see, he had gone to prison for killing a BICYCLE rider who was on the OPPOSITE side of the FM road upon which he was driving.

This next had to do with Parole, because making Home Visits are a very big part of your job. You have to go out and see the house where they are living, or the trailer, or the apartment, or the motel, or in one memorable case, the school bus. You learn to have a higher tolerance than you thought possible for "unpleasant" odors. Although there was that one place...the Grandmother opened the door, and I staggered back two steps just trying not to retch from the stench that escaped in a miasma cloud when she'd opened the door. Thank GAWD that parolee wasn't home so I didn't have to go inside! Generally I liked doing home visits. I learned the county liked no body's business. I have a good sense of direction, it's just one of those natural talents I was blessed with. I also am good at following even the lousiest directions, when they give you landmarks, but not street names. Course out in the boonies, there aren't a lot of street names, sometimes. Keep in mind, this was back in the days before the 911 system required all streets, everywhere to be marked. I don't know what it's like NOW.
But that was a side benefit, I got to cruise around all over the country side, stereo blasting, and just hope out for a few minutes at each parolee's house, chat for a few minutes, try to verify this was where they actually lived and then on to the next one. See, that's the flaw with scheduled home visits. They KNOW when you're coming. So you never know if they really live there or if they just dropped in to meet with you.
Oh, one more thing, I learned this when I was an intern at Child Protective Services: NEVER, Never, sit on or next to upholstered furniture. If you can't sit on a wooden wooden chair that's at least 6 feet from an upholstered surface, stand. No reason to be rude about it, just politely refuse their offer of a seat. "No, thanks, I've been sitting in the office and sittin' in the car. It's nice to let my legs unfold for a bit." Something like that. See, lice live in upholstery. And they can jump up to 6 feet. Just thought I'd warn you the way I was warned.

And in case, no one thinks to tell you in the office... NEVER let the parolee sit between you and the door. Never. Just DON"T do it. It's a matter of safety. You always want an unobstructed path to the door. This rule applies to home visits, too. Even more so.

The conventions, schools, and other chances to get away from the office. No matter how inane the training, and some of it was, I loved gettin' together, especially out of town with other P.O.s. Especially after becoming a Sex Offender Officer. DAHM, but did we cut loos and have fun, or WHAT? Back in the day, there were just a few S.O. P.O.s and we went crazy when we got out of town, or just away from the office in a group. We drank too much, we smoked too much, we laughed, we danced on the tables, we swam in the pool in our underwear [because we were drunk], we needed to release all this tension that had built up since the last time we'd been together. None of the other officers understood what it was like to have to work with Toxic Waste wearing the disguise of a human being. Nobody, but another S.O.P.O., knew what it was like to have to listen to their bullshit excuses and rationalizations. "She seduced me" His victim was SEVEN years old! Or the guy who told me he didn't need counseling because he'd found Jesus in prison and his faith and love for Jesus would keep him from reoffending. He got REAL pissy when I told him that I'd hadn't had any messages from Christ lately, so he'd need to go to counseling and submit to a monthly penile plethysmograph. [the link will take you to a site that explains the term and how the measuring is used with sex offenders] I just HATE it when criminals not only try to con me, but use the name of the Almighty to do it. But what I liked was getting together with other S.O.P.O.s to brainstorm about ways to cope with this bull and just to decompress in a way we couldn't with other officers.

And, this is kind of a dirty little secret, I guess...BUT the Parole Officer badge looks a LOT like the DPS badge. And I had a badge case that had the flap that held my badge on one side and a pocket for my TDCJ ID on the other. THAT badge case was where I kept my Driver's license. Every time I got stopped for speeding the entire time I was a P.O., I'd whip that badge case out and the Officer or Deputy or Trooper who had stopped me would see that badge while I was pulling out my D.L. It gave them pause. They'd ask who I worked for and I'd tell them I was a P.O. in the _______ District Office. They'd ask if I knew so-and-so at such-and-such P.D. or S.O. or the D.A.'s office, or Trooper so and so or Ranger so and so. Almost always I did. You get to know these guys after you've gone to get their help on an investigation, or because your parolee lives in their area and you just want them to know he's there or back. And you get to talking about this and that and before you know it he's grinnin' at you and says, "Ah, slow down, Girl and get outta here!" And you drive off. Badge America, nothin' finer.

I went into Social Work because I wanted to help people. I went into Parole because I wanted to have a feeling of helping people in my community. I think I can say, with a straight face, and a clear conscience, I did that and I gave an honest day's work for an honest day's wage every day I was there. If you can stand the office and agency politics, it's not bad. I just couldn't. I burned out after being on a sex offender caseload too long and having a conflict with my immediate sup. So, I say...give it a try, but if you see it's grinding you down, sucking out your soul...Get Out! There are other ways to make a living.

A Belated Note of Thanks

To the Anonymous Parole Officer with whom I corresponded in September:
The blog I posted Wednesday [about the negative aspects of being a Parole Officer] would not have had as much authenticity without the input I received from you.

As I have stated many times, I've been out of the "game" a long time. But our letters back in September let me know that things haven't changed. The mere fact that you were thrilled to have a blog based on the letter you wrote to me back then and the things you said in answer to my questions let me know that The State in general and The Board and its minions in particular haven't changed in my absence.

Thank you for the information. But more importantly, THANK YOU and every other P.O. for doing the jobs you do. Thanks for keeping an eye on these men and women released from our prison system, some because their good behavior warranted it, and some because their good time + their time served = their total sentence so they get released whether they deserve it or not!
Thanks for being over-worked and underpaid. Thanks for paying for a Bachelor's degree and now taking home less than $2k/month after taxes, retirement and insurance are deducted. Bet you're wishing you'd Majored in Business or Computer Science now, huh?
Thanks for taking the crap, the nitpicking and petty BS you have to put up with from burned out Unit Supervisors, Regional Supervisors, and seen-it-all Hearing Officers who have forgotten what it was like to BE a P.O.
Thanks for the unpaid overtime you have to put in every week in order to get all the office visits, home visits, case file documentation, Reports of Violations and all the other myriad duties accomplished. And thanks for taking on the job of Lab Tech, too. Don't you just love how you have to go into the restroom and supervise the collection [or beg an officer of the same gender to do this for you w/you opposite gender parolees] of Urine Samples? And then, after Duty Day is done, you get to test all those stinky little cups. Is the State paying for your HepB vaccination, by the way?
Jaysus, Mary and all the Apostles!!! It's been 17 years and things are worse than ever!


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Advice to a Would-Be Parole Officer

I got a letter about 3 weeks ago from a fella who is considering a career change. He wants me to give him the straight story on what it's like to be a Parole Officer. Well, wanting to be fair, I have to tell you, I LEFT Parole and didn't let the door hit my ass on the way out in November '91. So my personal experience is not exactly up-to-date.

However, a few months ago I exchanged email with a current Sex Offender P.O. and I spent several hours reading web page propaganda on the TDCJ site. I also spent a few years working for TDHS [TX Dept. of Human Services]. That's your first lesson, class. When you go to work for Uncle Sam or Uncle Sam Houston, be prepared to start learning a different language, the language of abbreviations.

I used to drive my kids and Mother NUTS talking in abbreviations. They hated that. I still lapse back in to that letter-speak from time to time. My Daughter, the English major, gets all uppity and makes snide remarks about wasting my education and fine vocabulary. I just smile inwardly, and bide my time. When she becomes a teacher she'll have her very own secret language from TEA and PTA et al.

Next on my list of warnings... it all depends on the Unit Supervisor you draw. The person who supervises you on a day to day basis can determine whether you have a successful or a shitty career. As can your ability to keep your head down and out of office politics. Listen very carefully to my next: ALL State Agencies, by their very existence and dependence upon the Lege for funding and their bureaucratic structure always have been and always will be political. Unless you can stay out of the politics, or you are an EXPERT political animal or you can survive having your ass handed to you by someone who IS a Political Predator...reconsider going to work for a State Agency. Or, try it for a year, and if things are working out, then you can try it for another year...but please don't start planning a career until you've lasted at least 5 years. If you have not risen to P.O. III, or Hearing Officer after five years...consider switching to Probation or the Feds.

The beginning salary and what you can expect after 2 years and then 5 years can be found by navigating through the link I gave you above. I will say it's more than what I was making when I left, 17 yrs ago, but that's to be expected after all this time, what with COLAs and the fact that they were literally bleeding new P.O.s for awhile. They had to increase salaries in an effort to keep them.

They induce the Type A P.O.s to take on the specialized caseloads that I discussed back in September [I think, maybe it was October] by appealing to their egos. "Oh, not just any P.O. can handle a caseload like this." "It takes a SPECIAL officer to handle the challenges of a caseload made up of these kinds of releasees." Do NOT fall for this trap!! I can't even believe they are still gettin' away with using that crap!

In 1988 I was one of the first Sex Offender Parole Officer Texas had. I was one of their guinea pigs. We went to Austin for a week in the Spring. Then in December we went to Padre Island for a week and that was what they called training. Of course we started seeing sex offender parolees right after we got back in the Spring. There wasn't then and isn't now a distinction made between Rapists and Pedophiles. However there is a world of difference in the way to approach those offenders, both because of the way their minds work and for officer safety reasons. BAD JuJu, very bad JuJu!

But the 'crats at the top of the heap at TDCJ-PPD have been gettin' away with connin' the best officers into workin' these high stress caseloads because they choose the officers who love a frickin' challenge. Oh, yes we do. [do I sound bitter? I get that way when my soul is sucked dry and the husk thrown away. I'm touchy about that.]

The workloads? Oh, lets see they are about 1/2 again as much as normal humans can handle during a 40 hour work-week. Of course there IS no such thing as OT when you work for the State. We used to be able to accumulate "Comp" time which we had to use in the same week we earned it. In other words, if you worked late on Tuesday because you had to do home visits, then you had to take the same number of hours off before 5 p.m. Friday or you just gave the State your time. However, if you got stuck with Friday as a "Duty Day" and had to be in the office that day and a bunch of parolees got released on Thursday and reported on Friday and their P.O.s were out and you had to see them instead as well as your own parolees who were there for their monthly report and you wound up working until 6 or 7 pm, well the entire TDCJ appreciated the donation of your time. I don't imagine that has changed either, but YMMV.[your mileage may vary]

I hope by now that they have switched to computerized records, but I doubt it. It is after all a State Bureaucracy. When I left, they were just getting computers. By now I'm sure every P.O. has a desktop and some may even have laptops for field use. BUT, and I hope I'm wrong, but I'd bet you $5 that officers, at a minimum, have to print off a copy of everything they put in the E-file and maintain a paper file, too. That's the bureaucratic mindset. If it's not on paper, it's not real.

In any case, every contact with or in connection with a releasee MUST be documented. Every phone call, every office, home and job site visit must be written in the case file. If the parolee goes to counselling, the documentation he brings in to prove to you he has attended and paid for his counselling must be noted and a copy placed in the file. His documentation for AA/NA must also be written in your notes and a copy placed in the file.

When I was still with Parole they were experimenting with having P.O.s collect and test urine samples from parolees. We had three different test kits so we could test for opiates, cocaine and marijuana. [BTW, you would have to eat a ridiculous amount of poppy seed hamburger buns, the BIG ones before your urine would test + for opiates, same for being in the same room where other people were smokin' dope and that's why you tested + for MaryJane. What? Were they super chargin' you? Go peddle that story somewhere else, cause I ain't senile so I'm not buyin' it.] Now when you submit your application for employment to the Human Resources folks, they don't warn you about this kind of stuff. My degree is in Social Work, not biology or chemistry. I most definitely did NOT sign on to carry some felon's hot pee around in a plastic cup and then run 3 tests on it, AFTER work hours when I should have been home with my kids or going out to dinner with that long, tall, gorgeous, hunk of man who is now my Dearly Beloved. So, you up for that, Pilgrim?

If I had been able to get OUT of my District Parole Office and become a hearing officer or get a transfer to Institutional Parole Officer, I probably would have stayed with Parole until retirement. Two things worked against me. Well, maybe more like three.

First, I have a big mouth and I seem to be unable to keep it shut, even when it would be politic to do so.
Second, I went to one little State Employees Union Meeting in Austin, talked to some legislators, on my OWN time and the Regional Supv was so paranoid after that... every time he called the office or my Unit Supv called him for something, he asked where I was. If I wasn't in the office, he assumed I was out doing "Union Business." I had to start bringing in Proof of where I had been, when I took comp time. A receipt from the Library, a local restaurant, a note from my kids, a copy of my travel sheet for the home visits, anything to prove I hadn't "snuck" down to Ft.Worth and the Union Office.
Third, my Unit Supervisor was a Bitch on Wheels. If I could have had the good luck to have kept the first Unit Sup I had...but that's water under the bridge. One evaluation from this woman would be glowing, the next would be awful, six months later...glowing...six months later...shit... This went on for FOUR years.

I had started volunteering with a non-profit about a year before I left Parole. They finally got a grant they had applied for and offered me a job. I jumped at the chance to get paid to do something I enjoyed and that I'd been doing for free. The fact that I'd be making the same money, working with co-workers who VALUED me and a client base who APPRECIATED me was as good, if not better than not having to take a salary cut.

I realize I have probably scared you away from Parole work. So I'll try to write a blog tomorrow telling you the things I LIKED about it. Believe it or not, there WERE some things I liked about being a Parole Officer.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Defining Depression

How do you know when the "Blues" have gotten out of hand and you need medication to be able to get past it?
Not related to post partum depression, just an over load of stress and crap in life. Is it possible to expect to get back off the medication some day?
If you don't have a GP, where do you start? I go to my OB/GYN annually for my medical needs.

This is probably one of the MOST common questions Social Workers, Doctors, Nurses, Nurse Practitioners, Counselors,Psychologists, and Psychiatrists hear.

Almost everybody gets the "Blues" from time to time. But there are definite signs and symptoms that differentiate the Blues from a Depression that can be treated with medication and/or therapy.

I need to take a detour here onto one of my famous tangents [if you read my other blog, you've been on one of my "Tangential Thinking Road Trips" before]. I am one of those helping professionals who believe that therapy never hurt anyone and has helped just about every one who gave it an honest try. So IF you meet the criteria for Depression, please consider therapy as well as medication.
I also attended the Nature and Nurture School of Causation for Depression. I think there is, in addition to the neurotransmitter/chemical imbalance component of depression, something in almost every one's background that contributed to their depression. Does this make you nuts? NO, it does not! Is it a criticism of your Mother or Daddy or the way they raised you? Not necessarily, unless you were abused physically, sexually, or emotionally. Or neglected physically or emotionally. The point is: YOU get to set the parameters for discussion in therapy. And, you can say ANYTHING within the confines of your therapist's office and it's confidential. Now, I know there may be a smart-ass or two out there to nit pick that last I have to include this modifier: if you tell your therapist you are planning to harm another person said therapist is obligated to inform the authorities and your intended victim [I think]. But that is the only time they are allowed to violate your confidentiality.

OK, side trip over, let's get back to the main topic...
I went to some websites I found through, my search engine of choice, using Depression Symptoms as my search criteria. These come from the National Institutes of Mental Health website,, just in case you want more info than what I'm relating here. I also liked their definition of Depression: When a person has a depressive disorder, it interferes with daily life, normal functioning, and causes pain for both the person with the disorder and those who care about him or her. Depression is a common but serious illness, and most who experience it need treatment to get better.

Here are the symptoms:
Persistent sad, anxious or "empty" feelings
Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
Feelings of guilt, worthlessness and/or helplessness
Irritability, restlessness
Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable, including sex
Fatigue and decreased energy
Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
Insomnia, early–morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
Overeating, or appetite loss
Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
Persistent aches or pains, headaches, cramps or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment

As for the 2nd part of the writer's email: Where to start if you don't have a GP, or Primary Care Physician and only see an OB/Gyn once a year for Well Woman Check-ups? There are, in most communities, mental health resources even for people without insurance. I don't know where this particular person lives. In Texas, we have an agency known as Mental Health/Mental Retardation [how UN-PC of us!!] or MH/MR. They accept anybody. The charges will be based on your ability to pay. If you are employed, but have no insurance, the eligibility worker will look at your income, family size and other medical expenses. Your fee per service, both medicine and therapy will be based on a sliding scale.

But, if you have private insurance, you will need to check your individual plan's coverage and requirements before beginning therapy. They may require you to only see provider's from an approved group of professional with whom they have negotiated fees. Otherwise your benefits may be reduced.

When seeking a physician to prescribe anti-depressant medication, I think it's important to consult a psychiatrist. They are specialists. All they do is treat disorders like depression. Their expertise can be invaluable in choosing the right medication for you. Often a medication regimen must be tweaked over a period of time before finding the correct dosage or even the correct medicine or combination of medicines for a particular patient. This is not a process to be left in the hands of the physician who goes from room to room treating coughs one minute and a sprained ankle the next, and then someone else's hypertension.

Trust me on this, even if it costs a little extra for the co-pay, go to the Shrink. They know their stuff. And don't get discouraged if the first medicine doesn't work. Or if your dosage has to be increased. Or if it has to be changed after 6 or 9 or 12 months. These things happen in a large percentage of cases. Treating Depression isn't like treating an ear infection or bronchitis. It's not one medicine works for everybody.

In the last 32 years, I've been on at least 13 different anti-depressants. So I know what I'm talkin' about when I speak of tweaking doses and making other adjustments. The brain is an amazingly adaptable organ. You put one chemical into it long enough and it will accommodate that chemical to the point where you have to try another chemical to achieve the same balance of Serotonin and Norepinephrin [the two neurotransmitters that get out of whack when we're depressed].

I think I answered the questions. If anybody is still in doubt after this and going to the NIMH site, leave me a comment or send me another email and I'll take another shot at it.

Tomorrow I answer a question about being a Parole Officer by someone considering a Career change.